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The Middle Ages

5th - 15th century


The upheaval that accompanied the migration of European peoples of late antiquity shattered the power of the Roman Empire and consequently the entire political order of Europe. Although Germanic kingdoms replaced Rome, the culture of late antiquity, especially Christianity, continued to have an effect and defined the early Middle Ages. Concurrent to the developments in the Christian West, in Arabia the Prophet Muhammad in the seventh century founded Islam, a new religion with immense political and military effectiveness. Within a very short time, great Islamic empires developed from the Iberian Peninsula and the Maghreb to India and Central Asia, with centers such as Cordoba, Cairo, Baghdad, and Samarkand.

The Cathedral Notre Dame de Reims, built in the 1 3th—14th century in the Gothic style; the cathedral served for many centuries as the location for the ceremonial coronation of the French king.

The Cathedral of Reims, by Domenico Quaglio



Burgundy and the Netherlands

6TH-15TH C


After the division of the Carolingian empire in the ninth century, France and Germany were unable to resolve the border region lying between them. Lorraine and the kingdoms of Lower and Upper Burgundy emerged from the Middle Kingdom. By the eleventh century these territories had become part of the Holy Roman Empire. In France, a side branch of the French royal family reigned in the duchy of Burgundy. In the 14th and 15th centuries, the dukes succeeded in building a powerful new Middle Kingdom, but it was divided between France and the Habsburgs after the last duke died in battle without a male heir in 1477. Arts in the Netherlands, especially painting and music, flourished under court patronage.


The Forerunners and Rise of the Duchy of Burgundy

During the Middle Ages various kingdoms emerged in the lands of historical Burgundy


In 534, the Franks conquered what, since the time of the Great Migration, had been the kingdom of the Burgundians. In the Treaty of Verdun of 843, the 1  Carolingians divided Burgundy.

The northwestern portion—the region of today's Burgundy— went to the West Frankish kingdom, the larger portion to the kingdom of 2 Lothair I.

Lothair I's "Middle Kingdom" stretched from the North Sea coast to Italy. After his death in 855 it was once again divided among his sons. Louis II received Italy, Lothair II was given Lorraine—which is named after him—and Charles received Burgundy and Provence. Charles died in 863 without issue and his brothers divided his territories among themselves. When Lothair II also died without heirs in 869, Louis II left Lorraine to his uncles Charles the Bald and Louis the German. However after prolonged disputes, it fell to the Holy Roman Empire. In 875 Louis II also died without producing a male heir.

In Lower Burgundy, Count Bo-so of Vienna, the son-in-law of Louis II, succeeded as king in 879. In Upper Burgundy, a member of the Welf dynasty, Rudolf I, was crowned king in 888. The Welfs supported the Saxons in Italy, who in turn supported the Welfs in the annexation of Lower Burgundy in 933.

Rudolf III signed an agreement in 1016 with his nephew, the German king Henry II, that led to the unification of Burgundy—called Arelat then after the
capital 3 Aries—with the Holy Roman Empire after Rudolf's death.

1 Map of the divided
Carolingian Empire after 870,
Burgundy marked in yellow, 17th century

2 Lothair I on the throne,
surrounded by guards,
book illustration, ninth century

3 The Carolingian Church St.Trophime,
in Aries, the capital of the medieval
kingdom of Burgundy

The duchy of Burgundy itself evolved from the ninth century out of the West Frankish part of Burgundy. This region was at first ruled by a side branch of the Capetians and in 1364 went to Philip the Bold and the Valois.

Through 4 marriage, Philip acquired Flanders, Brabant, and other territories of the Netherlands, where he first had to suppress the revolts of wealthy cities like 5 Ghent and Bruges. In this way he created a significant power base for his dynasty.

4 Philip the Bold's wedding with Margaret,
Countess and heiress of Flanders in 1369,
book illustration

5 Medieval merchant houses on the river Lys in Ghent



Burgundy's Golden Age and End of Autonomy


Charles the Bold sought to substantially expand the collection of Burgundian territories, offending France and the Holy Roman Empire. After his death the kingdom rapidly disintegrated.


Like his father, Philip the Bold, John the Fearless interfered in the regency of Charles VI of France.

John ordered the 6 murder of his adversary, Louis of Orleans, in 1407 and in the Hundred Years' War allied himself with Henry V of England against Louis's successor.

6 The murder of Louis of Orleans on the orders
of John of Burgundy, book illustration, 15th century

In 1419, John himself was killed by a supporter of the future Charles VII, heir to the French throne.

John's son, 7 Philip the Good, continued the alliance with the English crown and handed Joan of Arc over to the English troops.

But in 1435, he reconciled with Charles VII in the Treaty of Arras, after which Charles released Philip from his obligations as a vassal of the French crown. In the meantime, Philip had acquired further territories in the Netherlands and came to reign over a large complex of lands stretching between Germany and France.

In 1464, he called the first 11 States-General, a delegation of all the estates over which he ruled. Although the regions always stressed their independence, the first step toward union had been taken.

11 The States-General with the Duke of Burgundy, copper engraving, 18th ń

8 Charles the Bold, who succeeded his father, Philip, in 1467, wanted to unify his lands in a kingdom that would be independent of France and the Holy Roman Empire. He made a lot of enemies in his efforts to acquire the territories that separated his possessions in the Netherlands from the rest of Burgundy. He provoked Louis XI of France and the Habsburgs by occupying Lorraine, which belonged to the empire. He also put pressure on the free cities in Alsace, which were forced to seek support from the Swiss. Charles suffered a crushing defeat in 1476 at Granson and Morat against an army fielded by the coalition between the Swiss and Lorraine. In 1477, the last duke of Burgundy was killed in the battle at Nancy.

Charles's only daughter 9 Mary married the Habsburg Maximilian of Austria, who later became emperor.

7 Philip the Good, painting by Rogier van der Weyden; 
8 Charles the Bold, painting from the studio of
Rogier van der Weyden, 15th century;
9 Mary of Burgundy, painting by Niclas Reiser, ca. 1500

see also collections

Bosch Hieronymus (1450-1516)
Bouts Dieric (1415-1475)
Broederlam Melchior (1381-1409)
Campin Robert (1375-1444)
Christus Petrus (1400—1472?)
David Gerard (1460-1523)
Eyck Hubert  van (1385-1426)
Eyck Jan van (1390-1441)
Goes Hugo van der (1440-1482)
Limbourg brothers 
Massys Quentin (1465-1530)
Memling Hans (1433—1494)
Sluter Claus (d. ń. 1405)
Weyden Rogier van der (1399-1464)

When Mary died in Bruges in 1482, her husband inherited the estates, although he had to 10 defend them against Louis XI of France.

He succeeded in keeping most of the Burgundian territories, although the original West Frankish duchy of Burgundy passed to France.

10 Battle between the Habsburgs and the French,
by Tongern in 1482, wood engraving, 16th century



"The Autumn of the Middle Ages"

Through textile production and international trade, the Netherlands had become the most advanced and wealthy region in Europe.

Cities such as Bruges, Ghent, and Antwerp, and particularly the ducal courts in Dijon and Brussels, were centers of art and music. Fashion and court ceremony became the model for Europe.

While paintings like those of the court artist
Jan van Eyck announced the onset of the Renaissance, the exclusive Order of the Golden Fleece harked back to the age of chivalry.

The Sense of Taste, tapestry from the southern Netherlands, late 15th century

see also

Tapestries by Nicolas de Bataille






duke of Burgundy

byname Charles the Bold, French Charles le Téméraire

born Nov. 10, 1433, Dijon, Burgundy [now in France]
died Jan. 5, 1477, near Nancy, Lorraine

last of the great dukes of Burgundy (1467 to 1477).

Early years
The son of Duke Philip III the Good of Burgundy, Charles was brought up in the French manner as a friend of the French dauphin, afterward Louis XI of France, who spent five years in Burgundy before his accession. Although he had shown no hostility toward France before taking over the government of Burgundy during his father’s last illness, he thereupon gave rein to an ambition to make Burgundy independent of France and to raise it, if possible, to a kingdom.

Charles was almost entirely successful until 1474. He extended Burgundy’s possessions, organized them as a state, and freed them from French control. Much annoyed by Louis XI’s acquisition of Burgundian territory on the Somme River, he entered upon a lifelong struggle against Louis and became one of the principal leaders of the League of the Public Weal, an alliance of the leading French magnates against Louis. Charles forced Louis to restore to him the territory on the Somme in the Treaty of Conflans (October 1465) and to promise him the hand of his daughter Anne of France, with Champagne as dowry. Louis continued to encourage the towns of Dinant and Liège to revolt against Burgundy. But Charles sacked Dinant (1466), and the Liégeois were defeated in battle and deprived of their liberties after the death of Philip the Good (1467).

Charles, now not merely regent but duke in his own right, outdid Louis by obtaining the alliance of Edward IV of England, whose sister Margaret of York he married as his third wife (July 1468). Louis now tried negotiations with Charles at Péronne (October 1468). There, in the course of the discussions, Charles was informed of a fresh revolt of the Liégeois, again aided by Louis. Looking on Louis as a traitor, Charles nevertheless negotiated with him but at the same time forced him to remove Flanders, Ghent, and Bruges from the jurisdiction of the Paris parlement (superior court) and to assist in quelling the revolt; Liège was destroyed, and the inhabitants were massacred. The truce, however, was not lasting. Louis commanded Charles to appear before the parlement of Paris and seized some of the towns on the Somme (1470–71). The Duke retaliated by invading Normandy and the Île-de-France, ravaged the country as far as Rouen, but failed in an attack on Beauvais (1471–72). Another truce was made (November 1472), and Charles decided to wait, before renewing his attempt, for assurances of further help from Edward IV and for the solution of the problem of the eastern border of his states.

Charles wished to extend his territories as far as the Rhine and to make them into a single unit by acquiring the lands bordered by Burgundy, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands. Losing no opportunity, he purchased the county of Ferrette, the landgraviate of Alsace, and some other towns from the archduke Sigismund of Austria, in 1469; he secured for himself the inheritance of the old duke Arnold of Gelderland in 1473. To achieve his territorial aims, it remained for him only to subdue Cologne and the Swiss cantons and to get Lorraine from René II (René of Vaudémont).

Administrative reforms
In the meantime, Charles had been reorganizing his army and the administration of his territories. Statutes promulgated at Thionville (1473) instituted companies of four squadrons, at his expense, and made rules for discipline and tactics; Charles also had many excellent guns cast. He hired soldiers and took many Italian condottieri (mercenary captains) into his service. Intending to centralize the government, he created by statute a single chambre des comptes to control ducal finances for the Netherlands, a chambre du trésor to survey the administration of his own domain, and a chambre des généraux to control the collection of taxes. He exacted very heavy taxes indeed from the States General (parliament), which became a regular institution in his territories. To administer justice, he established a court called the grand conseil at Mechelen, with jurisdiction to supersede that of the parlement of Paris, and another that met alternately at Beaune and at Dole.

It remained for Charles to acquire a royal title. For a short time he entertained designs on the crown of the Holy Roman Empire, but this he renounced. On the other hand, he believed that he had persuaded the emperor Frederick III, in the course of conversations at Trier, to agree to crown him king of Burgundy. The royal insignia were ready and the ceremony arranged, when Frederick precipitately fled by night (September 1473). He probably was suspicious of the ambitious Charles.

In less than three years, Charles’s dream vanished. The crown had slipped through his fingers. He was obliged to give up his plan of taking the little town of Neuss, which he had unsuccessfully besieged for 11 months (July 1474 to June 1475), from the citizens of Cologne. Moreover, the Treaty of Picquigny (Aug. 29, 1475), concluded by Edward IV and Louis XI, made certain the defection of his English ally. Attacked by René of Lorraine, who had signed an agreement with Louis XI (August 1474), and by a coalition of the Swiss, Sigismund of Austria and the towns on the upper Rhine, Charles took Nancy in November 1475; but, in March and June 1476, he was defeated by the Swiss, at Granson and at Morat. In October he lost Nancy. Then, on Jan. 5, 1477, a further battle was fought outside Nancy, and Charles himself was killed; his mutilated body was discovered some days later.

The fragility of his achievement is proved by the serious challenges to it during the minority of Mary of Burgundy, his daughter by Isabella of Bourbon. Yet Charles the Bold was not merely a belated representative of the chivalrous spirit; he was a man of wide knowledge and culture, already a prince of the Renaissance. His haste, his lack of adaptability, and his obstinacy lost him much more than did his visionary approach and his boldness.

Michel J. Mollat

Encyclopaedia Britannica



Rogier van der Weyden
Charles the Bold in about 1460, wearing the Order of the Golden Fleece


Peter Paul Rubens
Charles the Bold


The corpse of Charles the Bold, duke of Burgundy,
discovered after the Battle of Nancy, 1477


Rogier van der Weyden
Charles the Bold as a boy stands next to his father, Philip the Good


Charles the Bold of the Burgundian Court
 illustrating a bureau stacked with gold plate.

Duke Charles the Bold in the Midst of His Court,
Knights of the Order of the Golden Fleece, 1473
Flemish School

Charles the Bold Presented by an Angel (1469-1471)
Flemish School

Tomb of Charles the Bold



Mary of Burgundy

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Mary, called Mary the Rich (13 February 1457 – 27 March 1482), was suo jure Duchess of Burgundy from 1477 – 1482. As the only child of Charles the Bold, Duke of Burgundy, and his wife Isabella of Bourbon, she was the heiress to the vast Burgundian domains in France and the Low Countries upon her father's death in the Battle of Nancy on 5 January 1477. Her mother had died in 1465, but Mary was on very good terms with her stepmother Margaret of York, whom Charles married in 1468.


Heiress of Burgundy
Mary of Burgundy was born in Brussels, at the Ducal castle of Coudenberg. Her birth, according to the court chronicler, Georges Chastellain, was attended by a clap of thunder ringing from the otherwise clear twilit sky. Her godfather was Louis the Dauphin, in exile in Burgundy at that time; he named her for his mother, Marie of Anjou. Reactions to the child were mixed: the baby's grandfather, Philip the Good, was unimpressed, and "chose not to attend the [Baptism] as it was only for a girl"; his wife, Isabel, was simply delighted at the birth of a granddaughter.

As the only child of Charles the Bold, Mary was heiress to a vast and wealthy domain, made up of the Duchy of Burgundy, the Free County of Burgundy, and the majority of the Low Countries, and her hand was eagerly sought by a number of princes. The first proposal was received by her father when she was only five years old, to marry the future Ferdinand II of Aragon. Later the younger brother of Louis XI, Charles de Valois, Duc de Berry made an approach, to the intense annoyance of his brother the King, who attempted to prevent the necessary Papal dispensation for consanguinity.

As soon as Louis produced a male heir who survived infancy, the future Charles VIII of France, Louis wanted his son to be the one to marry Mary, despite his son being thirteen years younger than Mary. Nicholas I, Duke of Lorraine was a few years older than Mary, and his Duchy lay alongside Burgundian territory, but his plan to combine his territory with hers was frustrated by his death in battle in 1473.

When her father fell upon the field at the siege of Nancy, on 5 January 1477, Mary was only nineteen years old. Louis XI of France seized the opportunity afforded by his rival's defeat and death to attempt take possession of the Duchy of Burgundy proper, and also of Franche Comté, Picardy and Artois.

Louis was anxious that Mary should marry Charles, the Dauphin of France, and thus secure the inheritance of the Low Countries for his descendants, by force of arms if necessary. Mary, advised by Margaret, distrusted Louis, declined the French alliance, and turned to her Netherland subjects for help. Sensing her weakness, she obtained their help only at the price of great concessions.

The Great Privilege
On 10 February 1477 at Ghent on the occasion of her formal recognition, known as the Joyous Entry, as Charles' heir, she was compelled to sign a charter of rights, called the Great Privilege. Under this agreement, the provinces and towns of Flanders, Brabant, Hainaut, and Holland recovered all the local and communal rights which had been abolished by the decrees of the dukes of Burgundy in their efforts to create a centralized state on the French model out of their separate holdings in the Low Countries. In particular, the Parliament of Mechelen (established formally by Charles the Bold in 1470) was abolished and replaced with the pre-existing authority of the Parlement de Paris, which was considered an amenable counterweight to the encroaching, if informal, centralisation undertaken by both Charles and Philip the Good. Mary also had to undertake not to declare war, make peace, or raise taxes without the consent of the States, and to employ only native residents in official posts.

Such was the hatred of the people for the old regime that two of her father's influential councillors, the Chancellor Hugonet and the Sire d'Humbercourt, having been discovered in correspondence with the French king, were executed at Ghent despite the tears and entreaties of the youthful duchess.


Mary now made her choice among the many suitors for her hand, selecting the Archduke Maximilian of Austria (after her death the Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I). The marriage took place at Ghent on 18 August 1477. By marrying Archduke Maximilian of Austria, son of the Archduke of Austria, she became Archduchess Mary of Austria. In this way the Low Countries came to the Habsburgs, initiating two centuries of contention between France and the Habsburgs, later of Spain, then of Austria, for their possession, which climaxed in the War of the Spanish Succession, 1701–1714.

In the Netherlands, affairs now went more smoothly, the French aggression was temporarily checked, and internal peace was in a large measure restored.

Death and legacy

Five years later, the 25-year-old Duchess met her death by a fall from her horse on 27 March 1482 near the Castle of Wijnendale. She loved riding, and was falconing with Maximilian when her horse tripped, threw her, and then landed on top of her, breaking her back. She died several days later, having made a detailed will. She is buried in Bruges.

Louis was swift to re-engage, and forced Maximilian to agree to the Treaty of Arras (1482) by which Franche Comté and Artois passed for a time to French rule, only to be exchanged for Burgundy and Picardy in the Treaty of Senlis (1493), which established peace in the Low Countries.

In 1493, Maximilian married secondly Bianca Maria Sforza (5 April 1472- 31 December 1510), the daughter of Gian Galeazzo Sforza, Duke of Milan, and Bona of Savoy but had no children by her.


Michael Pacher
Mary of Burgundy


Michael Pacher
Mary of Burgundy


 Mary of Burgundy


Ernst Maler
Mary of Burgundy


Mary of Burgundy


Mary's tomb effigy in the Church of Our Lady, Bruges



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